Hellboy: The Science of Evil Review
Written : Wednesday, July 23, 2008
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Hellboy is a lesser-known comic book hero, but a personal favorite of mine. His origin is simple: he's a boy from hell. Well, it is actually a bit more complex than that involving Nazis and black magic, but the overall scheme is that he escaped from hell and was raised here on Earth by an American scientist. Hellboy now works for what has become the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) alongside two other gifted individuals (Abe; a fishman, and Liz; a woman with pyrokinesis). There are various other characters that have been developed over the course of the comic book series, but only those two are currently present in the game. A "secret character" has been hinted at through the voice talent (Bruce Campbell!) and has been speculated to be Lobster Johnson, but has not been confirmed at the time of writing.
The game focuses on two huge factors of the Hellboy mythology: monsters and Nazis. Originally setting out to destroy a ghost who had been ransacking temples, Hellboy soon finds himself on the trail of an old enemy: Herman Von Klempt. Herman is actually just a head at this point, using science to keep his brain functioning without a body. His head firmly in a jar, he uses artificial bodies to function. His loyal army of Nazis and genetically enhanced apes, stand in Hellboy's way to putting the Nazi in his rightful place: six feet under. I am genuinely surprised at the amount of knowledge the developer Krome Studios has within the Hellboy universe and it really makes the game a treat for fans of his history.
The game is comprised of six levels, taking place mostly in Romania (with a level in Japan for good measure) and ranging from a run-down city to an underground cavern. Despite the change in scenery, most of the levels are very repetitive. To progress from one section to another, you will simply have to defeat every enemy you see until the "ghost barrier" falls and allows you to pass. A few sections require small side-tasks such as freeing a ghost's wife or lighting torches by sacrificing enemies into a pit, but for the most part this is straight beat-em-up gameplay. Aside from the overall tasks being mundane, the fighting system is as well. You've got your light and strong attacks, and your grapple, but not much else aside from that. Defeating enemies does yield blue essence which (when you get enough) can be unleashed through a "hell fire" attack. Really it just sets the sides of the screen ablaze and adds fire damage to your normal attacks, but it at least sounds cool.
The Right Hand of Doom at work.
The biggest bonus to the fighting, is the Samaritan, Hellboy's oversized gun. Able to use a variety of ammo, the gun packs quite a punch and can aid in stunning many enemies to set them up for combos. The extra types of ammo are great for taking down enemies quickly, but you do need some of it to use while progressing through the game as well so it becomes a bit of a premium. "Firefly" ammo can set torches ablaze to open doors, "Release" ammo can remove curses from tombs and "Ignite" ammo can set evil roots ablaze to unblock a path. The gun isn't a mainstay of the fighting system, but it is nice to fall back on if you're in a jam and need some room to allow your health to recharge. You can also utilize swords, explodable frog eggs and other various items to throw at enemies. Again however, normal combos will get most of the work done for you.
The campaign can also be tackled with a friend via Xbox Live, the host controlling Hellboy and the invitee getting his or her choice of the previously mentioned Abe or Liz characters. I found the servers to be slightly laggy, even at eight in the morning (I was playing with a nice guy from Germany) and the cameras were independent of each other, something that I felt was strange for such a closed off game. What I guess would be called a "fixed, panning" camera doesn't work well in general (you can't move it completely, but it can sway left or right a bit), but when your partner can take off in another direction and be completely out of sight in a beat-em-up, it can sometimes get a bit confusing.
Nice environments, but nothing spectacular.
Graphically, Hellboy falls quite short of the standard we've come to expect from the 360. While not terrible, the generic level designs and overall mediocre character designs don't exactly make you excited for the gameplay as a good game should. I heard quite a bit of complaints regarding the camera system, but only when playing online did it really annoy me. Going through the single player campaign, it stays centered for the most part and gives enough space to work with. At times it pulled back a bit too far or stayed in one place for too long while I ran off into the distance, but everything corrected itself after a few seconds. The game looks good enough to keep the story moving, but it certainly doesn't push the envelope and try to really show the features of a devil or fishman.
The voice work from Ron Perlman (Hellboy) is generally well done, but you can tell he sat in a recording booth and just read lines for an entire day. There isn't a lot of emotion in the dialogue, though he does keep alive his sarcastic bite and tough-guy cool. The witches and skeletons Hellboy meets are done with little imagination; picture any game you've played with a witch and you're on the right track. The rest of the audio is (again) fairly mediocre. There has to be a packaged sound for just about anything in the video game business by now. Most games get it right and I've only played a few that just didn't know what frequency to use.
There's something behind me, isn't there?
The achievements are for the most part very easy. You are required to play the game twice, once in single player and once through in co-op. I can understand wanting people to use the co-op feature since it may in fact be part of the reason the rest of the game is so generic (time working in co-op means time away from graphics, etc) but I didn't like that it doesn't stack with the normal campaign achievements. Those should have been awarded through single player or co-op. There are collectibles to search for, but most of them are fairly easy to find. Some require you to replay a level once you have a certain ammo for the Samaritan to use on an obstacle. There are also a number of weapon achievements which unfortunately are extremely tedious. Some require you to steal your enemies' weapons to use on them or to throw enemies onto spikes and off cliffs. As I mentioned before, I preferred simple light and strong attack combos, so these achievements were a grind for me.
The biggest thing against this game might be the secret achievements. I know it might be sad that achievements can be a deciding factor of whether or not people play games, but it is the truth. To date, none of the four secret achievements have been found, a total of 160 points. There is a section in the main menu with a line through it that says "downloads" and the caption mentions downloaded levels. Only one game has done something similar before to my knowledge, where Crackdown only shipped with 900 available with the last 100 coming through DLC. The nice thing is that Microsoft's achievement policy requires 1000 points to be free of charge, so whatever characters or levels we may see in the future should have no cost attached. They could add a few more to the mix and charge to bring the game to 1250 total, but I doubt this game would warrant that much content. Though when you think about how little content there is in the game currently, why did Krome and Konami feel they needed to make Hellboy fans wait for the rest?
Nothing special but nothing terrible either. I love Ron Perlman's Hellboy but he kind of phones it in for the game. The lines have the overall Hellboy feel, but none of the emotion you see in the movies.
Again, nothing absolutely horrible but it should really have been much better on this system. The environments and characters do the job but don't push the envelope in the least.
The camera to me didn't feel like much of a burden and the controls are extremely simple. I can see how some people might dislike the camera, but it keeps most of the action on-screen and doesn't get you lost very often.
Short and repetitive as it may be, it does have some charm to it. The campaign is a dismal six hours at best and the co-op adds nothing new aside from the character models (they play exactly the same). As much as achievements have become a staple of this system, locking a few out through DLC seems silly, especially with how little actual content there is on the disc itself. The Hellboy world is exciting, but the game fails to capture much of that.
This list has just about everything I hate: forced second play through, collectibles, tedious weapon achievements and secret achievements no one can figure out. At this point it is almost certain that additional levels and a secret character are involved in the hidden achievements, but how can a 6-hour beat-em-up not have a full 1000 available on the first try?
Again my superhero friends fail me. While the game has a bit of charm, that is mostly my affection for the title character coming through and not the actual game itself. The gameplay is dull and repetitive, the graphics and audio mediocre at best and the achievements are a complete drag. I can say I enjoyed this game, but only as a Hellboy fan and certainly not a video game fan.